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In the Middle East, Female Scientists Face Different Challenges

Rana Danaji, a professor of molecular biology in Jordan, weighed in in the journal Nature on what it’s like to be a woman in science in an Arab world

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Research has repeatedly shown that women are discriminated against in science by both their teachers and their peers. But those studies were almost all conducted in the Western academic world. What about women in the Arab world?

In the journal Nature, Rana Danaji, a professor of molecular biology in Jordan, weighed in on what it’s like to be a woman in science in an Arab world. Turns out, the difficulties there are not that different from the issues facing women here:

Some of the problems faced by women scientists in the Middle East are the same as those faced by women around the world. Our productivity, for instance, is measured on a male scale. The years we spend taking care of children are not calculated as part of the gross domestic product of a country. What is more important — to build physical things or to nurture a human being?

Another common challenge to all women scientists is lack of mentoring and networking. Most women scientists everywhere have two jobs — work and home — and most will not give up home for work. They will always be worried about the children, want to be with them, and feel that the father’s presence won’t compensate for their own absence. So they don’t take time after work to have a coffee with their colleagues.

There are also some specific challenges to the Middle East, she writes. Women in the Arab Muslim world don’t actually face as many inherent biases as they do here. In fact, the standard stereotype is that Muslim women work harder and are more dependable than men. “One must not fall into the trap of transferring solutions from one culture to another,” she writes.

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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